Philippines still barred from H-2B visa program

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THE Trump administration announced on Thursday that it will continue to bar the use of H-2B visas for workers from the Philippines, U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan said in his e-newsletter.

He added that the Philippines was made ineligible last year because of problems with human trafficking, the Trump administration said.

“To get some exception for the Marianas, which historically turns to the Philippines as a source of labor because of proximity, language, and culture,” Kilili said, “I asked the Department of Homeland Security for specific data on human trafficking of Filipinos in the Marianas or how trafficking had changed in 2018 to warrant the ban beginning in 2019. DHS provided no answer.”

Kilili said, “There are H-2B-eligible countries in our region that could supply workers, such as Taiwan or Fiji. But one of the reasons I worked for — and succeeded in getting enacted — my new law allowing an additional 3,000 CW permits for construction workers was because of the Trump administration ban on the Philippines. My new law — the Disaster Recovery Workforce Act—allows workers to come to the Marianas from the Philippines.”

In an interview, House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan said the CNMI still has a long way to go before achieving full recovery.

“The more access to construction workers we have the faster we can recover,” he added.

The floor leader said the Disaster Recovery Workforce Act will help, but an additional 3,000 construction workers may not be enough.

The decision of the federal government to again bar the Philippines from the H-2B visa program will not help the CNMI, he added.

In his e-newsletter, Kilili said, “Employers and workers in the Marianas want the protections and benefits I included in the U.S. Workforce Act and the Long-term Residents Relief Act. But they will not go into effect without agency regulations. On Tuesday, I sought a time commitment from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Deputy Director Mark Koumans, but got none. We passed the U.S. Workforce Act in 2018 including the three-year CW permits employers want. And we passed the Relief Act last June giving over one thousand individuals currently paroled into the Marianas permanent status here — if only the [Trump] administration would act.”

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